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The Ross-on-Wye Boardgamers

Beer and Boardgames at the White Lion. "It's not F-ing Monopoly, alright?!"

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Friday June 24th - In Which Tony Wines

Ben Bateson
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I have gotten into the habit of checking with Tony whether Benedict will be tagging along for gaming, as the extra personage is likely to affect our game choice for the night. Of course, this week I forgot, and Benedict was along rather unexpectedly, even for his own dear pater.

Tony had mitigated the lack of planning by bringing Notre Dame, Benedict's first play at this most venerable (and by far, best) of the Felds. He made a pretty good stab at it, as well, despite being too over-protective of his rat-track and not cashing in on all the cubes in the park. I, too, was playing 'heavy park', helped no end by John and Becky passing me good VP cards. John took on most of the heavy building of the cathedral, while Becky and Tony warred over the messages. It was a good diverse range of strategies, and my succumbing to the plague, coupled with Tony's unerring ability to turn up the 4-point messages, gave him a few points in it at the end.

That had all taken barely an hour, so I volunteered Viticulture as our main event of the evening (much to the chagrin-in-absence of Dave and Norm, I'm sure: they kept bringing it and failing to get it played). An awkward rules reading masked the fact that the game is relatively simple, and once we'd had our fill of 'cock' jokes (rooster? I think not...), some inexperience all round allowed Tony to leap out to a rather unassailable lead.

Viticulture seems to sit in the vacant 'gentle Worker Placement' slot for our club, particularly compared to our ruthless games of choice: Agricola, Caylus, Keyflower, Lancaster. I'm impressed by the strong theme of the game, and unworried by the rather swingy visitor cards: there is enough going on here for everyone to be gently developing their own strategy. It's also quite nice that there is no over-riding need to 'breed' extra workers, which is the downfall of too many other WP games (yes, even Agricola). I think Viticulture will remain a stayer because it is close enough to an 'experience' game, while still retaining the pretence of competitiveness that we need at the club. And, thinking about it, that's rather unique.

After last week's success at Knit Wit, we were keen to up the ante, and everyone was primed for what I call 'proper party game competitiveness', where a whole fundamental part of the game is to mock each other's answers, and indeed try to squeeze the most outrageous answers possible past the censorship of your opponents. Unfortunately, Tony has short shrift with this sort of thing, and suffered a massive sense-of-humour failure when we denied him the opportunity to explain that 'truffle' and 'magic mushroom' were completely different things. As is often the way, the sense-of-humour failure was far more comical than the actual game itself, resulting in a manoeuvre I haven't seen since my brother was four years old and swept a whole game of Monopoly onto the floor in a sulk after landing on Park Lane. It was pointed out that this sort of thing would have been far more impressive had he done it with the multitudinal wooden components of Viticulture.

It's hard to come up with any disagreement in Codenames, however, even if John is playing. We played two lop-sided games: the first resulting in Benedict out-cluing his father when playing the agent for Becky and myself (it did not help that Tony proferred 'Pissing: 2' TWICE as a clue), and the second was yet another feast of John's cluing ineptness, opening with 'Flying: 2' when 'Ghost' and 'Eagle' were NOT among his spies. I took advantage with some steady but erudite 2-cluers, which were all pleasingly and faultlessly interpreted by Tony. On a wavelength indeed.
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Sun Jun 26, 2016 1:21 pm
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Friday June 17th - El Grande Day Out

Ben Bateson
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With one of Gary's sporadic visits bolstering our 'regular' numbers, there was an opportunity to load up with those few treasured best-with-five games. They are a peculiar niche in the collection (I don't think I've ever played Princes of Florence with LESS than five), but all make for a thoroughly exciting experience on their turn.

Tonight's choice was El Grande. I'm in something of a minority in thinking that this is pretty effective with 4P as well, but whichever way you look at it, there's no doubt that Kramer's first great game deserves its reputation as an all-time classic. We have a creaky old first-edition German copy, liberally dolled-up with English paste-ups and player mats. And we don't play it anywhere near enough. Indeed, this was Becky's first game (as well as Gary's), but the rules are really a breeze and we were up and running in no time at all.

Gary faltered at first and never really caught up, and some rather questionable decisions saw John leap out into an impregnable lead. It's games such as this where the chinks start to show: several overt kingmaking episodes, and a leader problem (only exacerbated when John was allowed to 'retrieve' his 13-card) that never went away. It wasn't quite disappointing, but it was an insight into how game designs have been improved over the years.

Gary had enjoyed 7 Wonders sufficiently at his last visit to go out and buy his own copy, which had sat somewhat dormant until he found enough people to play it with. Well, here was the opportunity! It is a running in-joke at Ross-on-Wye that we can NEVER segregate and deal all the cards out properly on the first go, which Becky did nothing to dispel. When the smoke had cleared, I had wound up with the Mausoleum and a Marketplace, so my set-in-stone strategy was to see what other people were chucking away and build a strategy around that. As it happened, this was Science cards (again?!), but I also chucked in a crafty red card which earned me too many points against a pacifist Becky and John. The net result was a strong 63 points, enough for a comprehensive win (I think my nearest rival was at least ten behind).

No-one ever plays 7 Wonders JUST ONCE, right? I sloped off to the bar for a pint and on my return found myself squeezed between Tony and John with a very tempting Alexandria in front of me. Wonders that give me free/cheap resources are hands-down my favourite, and seeing a big clump of green cards in my hand made it easy to discount that as a strategy route. I ended up with a very bits-and-pieces board, with three different guilds earning me 21 points, second only to John who had played a HUGE final card that eclipsed me completely.

Gary had to withdraw early, for reasons not explained, so I pressed my case for Tony to crack open his in-shrink copy of Knit Wit. It is a game already featuring strongly on my wishlist, and I had no reason to doubt it would disappoint as a later-evening not-quite-closer.

In brief, Knit Wit is Scattegories with Venn diagrams: an exercise in latitudinal thinking that requires you to identify items that are simultaneously 'Historical', 'Square' and 'Blue', without coinciding with any of the other players! It was quite tricky with 4P; heaven alone knows what it would be like with the full complement of eight! We played two lively games and very much enjoyed them: Knit Wit looks to be firmly ear-marked for the Christmas Party, where it might have to compete with all the other light confections similarly lined up.

Our numbers dwindled further as Tony had to go on youth-trafficking duties, and as we cast about for a 20-minute finishing game, Becky rather unexpectedly volunteered BuyWord, in an effort to redeem herself from the previous week. This she did with some success, overhauling John into second place, but I fear that my experience with word games might prove somewhat over-competitive in making this game a group favourite. I love it to bits, but if I keep winning, I suspect no-one else will...
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Sun Jun 26, 2016 12:29 pm
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Friday June 10th - Losing One's Marble

Ben Bateson
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It was looking like a case of 'same old gamers' tonight, but a late email came through from Anne and thought-we'd-lost-him-to-studentdom Sam promising attendance. This didn't stop Tony unpacking Imhotep before they'd even arrived, so I honourably devolved to a second group of three, storing up the rules I'd already been taught, which turned out to be useful later.

I plonked Vikings on the table for the edification of them both. It's a game that Becky and I rate very highly, and it certainly caught the imagination of Anne, to the extent where she was giving me strategy advice in Round 2 and winning rather comfortably at the end. Sam got rather caught up in a low-economy opening (only 3 yellow Vikings in the first three rounds!), and although I managed eight overfeeding points, I couldn't overhaul Anne, who had played a rather good starvation game.

Meanwhile, Imhotep had polished off two complete games and they still had time to loiter around waiting for us to score up. It was very well received by all three, given the uproar that greeted John pipping Becky for the win in the second game and preventing her completing a double. We plumped for a bit of a switch-around, helped by the fact that a second available table meant we needn't all squeeze around the six-seater.

Tony, Anne and I went for Broom Service, which turned out to be a delightful combination of Elfenland and Glass Road that fully deserved its KSdJ, despite some grumblings around here about the theme and (wrongly-)perceived lack of weight. It gave me a great opportunity to out-think Tony, being seated to his right, and everyone obliged by picking three out of four identical cards to start, giving me a nice kicks-tart to what turned out to be a very comfortable win. Tony and Anne were comically bad at time, which also helped.

I like Broom Service a lot. The event cards are cute little mini-goals, and the cardplay in some ways feels even better than Glass Road, which is our current go-to screwage game. We didn't get as far as the advanced game, but I imagine (just like Vikings, in fact), there are plenty of legs without it. And what other game allows you to pronounce to a crowded bar: "I am a BRAVE weather fairy!"?

As Tony explained Imhotep to Anne, I sauntered off to the bar, comfortable in the knowledge that the rules had been ingested at the beginning of the night. And, for once, I was right: it's a disarmingly simple game with plenty of juicy interaction. I was presented with a whole bunch of statues early on, and only a small misunderstanding on how the Burial Chamber scored prevented me overhauling Anne, who was in charge of the Obelisks.

Tony had plugged Imhotep strongly tonight - three games just for himself - and there seems to be a lot of buzz around this year's SdJ nominees which there hasn't been for a couple of years. Although I'd tried reading the rules in advance, it looked on the surface to be very average. But I was wrong! I found Imhotep to be a very intelligent game, with fun back-stabby interaction and a good play length, and it would be a worthy winner. However, some of my turns were lacking in genuine decisions (particularly when last to play), and I can only imagine this is a worse problem with 4P. On the whole, I think Codenames is the better.

While we were ploughing our way through award-winners past and future, John, Becky and Sam were road testing Ominoes (not good, was the conclusion) and Lanterns (better, apparently). Tony had to retire for some youth-fetching duty; Becky and John were not really enamoured of my closing-game suggestion of Between Two Cities (shame - I thought that had gone down well, but apparently not) and suggested (yet again!) Wizard as a closing exercise. This was meat-and-drink to Anne, who is a seasoned Bridge player, and both she and Sam challenged the lead at points. But John pulled clear towards the end, especially after a costly three-trick shortfall from yours truly.
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Sun Jun 12, 2016 6:01 pm
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Friday June 3rd - Cardinal Sins

Ben Bateson
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Unlike the ENTIRE REST OF THE BLOODY COUNTRY, we had foregone the opportunity to baa our way up the M5 and attend the UK Games Expo this weekend. I'm no fan of being hawked games by harangued designers and like my gaming to happen in peaceful and un-hectic surrounds, so the convention circuit doesn't really appeal. JP shared our diffidence, and we were joined by Welsh Phil, on one of his occasional excursions across the border. Phil's group play a lot of heavily thematic games, so it must be like some sort of gentle Euro-bliss when he makes the hop to Ross-on-Wye.

We got stuck straight into the beefy stuff: John popped Inhabit The Earth on the table, and Phil - like everyone - picked up the rules by degrees, leaving the chaos of a Movement phase very much until last. It was an odd game, no-one managing to get any decent working combos into play, and I was almost completely bereft of any bonus tokens. I went instead for some solid end-game goals and watched Becky abandon VP cards completely and sweep two boards on the same turn (first time I've seen that happen). I'd figured she won by a mile, but the final scores of 29-26-26-25 pretty much suprised everyone. A remarkable session for all sorts of reasons.

During my excursion to the bar, John seized the plush velvet bag of Buyword, to some consternation from Becky (she doesn't like word games, and might not be thrilled to learn about the copy of Paperback coming back from the Expo...). I thought this is one where some mild dyslexia wouldn't hinder her too much, as the word-making needn't be completely competitive, but she was still lukewarm on it. John struggled with some difficult letters in both games we played, but Phil and I found it much to our liking as we won a game each; I suspect his drawing of a U with the Q in the second game helped, though! Buyword is very much 'my' sort of game: a deft cross of valuation and wordsmithery, so I hope I shan't lack for opponents.

Time for someone else to choose one? I had recently acquired a copy of 1655: Habemus Papam, upon the recommendation of Matt Green of it being a barking-mad bidding game with the bountiful goal of being elected Pope. Well, how can you not try a game with that sort of recommendation?

True to form, Habemus Papam was indeed barking mad. It's a 'sealed fist' bidder where everyone gets a prize, and has some quite sweet thematic touches such as cardinal old-boy networks, an untouchable future Pope, old fogies popping their clogs, and shady French politicians trying to manipulate the whole thing with wodges of cash. The latter proved very much to John's liking, and he hit second place without even recruiting a single Cardinal! Phil managed to get himself elected Pope - who says a trip to Ross is without its rewards? On reflection, the only problem I have with the game is that it's too madcap to try and build any sort of long-term strategy. But there are good compensations in the theming and storytelling, unusual in a small box such as this.

To finish, we celebrated Tony Boydell's success at the Expo (Guilds of London sold out before lunchtime Saturday!) with a run at his favourite game (snork!), Wizard. Phil turned out to be a seasoned card-player, so had no trouble with the Oh Hell gameplay, but John and Becky's enthusiasm for the game was offset by some tricky hands around the 5-10 mark. Indeed, I had sprung off to a rather embarrassing lead, and even a self-imposed 20-point penalty (for cocking up the dealing in Hand 12) didn't put me under threat. John managed to squeeze himself out from the ignominious negative-point range so further tantrums were averted.

A very civilised evening, all told: some slightly off-centre choices of games proved good for the crowd. And a pleasure to see Phil again, especially after subjecting him to the nightmare that was Himalaya last time...
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Sun Jun 5, 2016 12:11 pm
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Friday May 27th - Patronizing? Moi?

Ben Bateson
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Unperturbed by the lukewarm reception afforded to Dominare last week, I broke out the final of our Tempest games, Patronize. It turns out that Tony has 'previous' with this game, so there wouldn't be any nasty surprises. With JP rolling in on the dot of 7:30, we were a table of four again, and Patronize made a perfect warmer-upper, given its 15-minute playtime and brain-engaging complexity. Indeed, in stark contrast to last week, where Tony slogged for 140 minutes to score three points, here you can score nearly fifty just by playing four cards!

Patronize did indeed go down well with all, and John and I split the two games we played (the former after some convoluted mathematics, admittedly). I can see it making a good double-bill with Love Letter.

Another series which flames our various hearths is the Key series; Becky and Tony have had a persistent urge to play Keythedral again, and things looked grim as Tony promised to encore his recent 'teach it verbatim from the rulebook' performances. Thankfully, we could just about remember enough of the mechanics to piece it together without a Tolstoy-esque rendition, and actually Keythedral is a damn sight less complex than I remember. Time has been kind, looking at the torment that is the Keyflower rulebook.

It's also a lot less high-scoring that most games - another timely effect - and the final result was a squeaker between John and I, he finally taking it 14-13-x-x. I've been somewhat lukewarm on Keythedral in the past: the spacial aspect to the fields is frustrating and, with 2P, downright brutal. It was the same problem as with Key Market - you spend too long blocking each other to really gain anything of any strategical importance. Having said this, it was a fairly efficient process with four, and I don't think I'd turn down another game, especially given that it came in comfortably - and unexpectedly - under 90 minutes.

With 45 minutes on Tony's personal clock, he wanted to try something that was a little bit heavier than the usual filler territory (it was only 9:30, after all). Becky and John got all enthusiastic about Wizard, the Oh Hell variant that appeals to - well - three of us. Tony gritted his teeth for about eight rounds before griping so sufficiently about his inability to play that Becky felt the need to abandon proceedings before crockery was thrown. I suppose it is a founding tenet of the club that we never force anyone to play a game they don't want to play: however, it never occurred to anyone to say this before we started, rather than midway through...

Becky's 'win' at Wizard gave us incentive to break out something she tends to be hopeless at. Codenames is usually a reliable bet in these circumstances, and so it proved as a rejuvenated Boydell and I won both legs with minimal fuss. JP and Becky never really clicked on any level: she not recognising an Archaeopteryx, and he over-thinking some vagaries, to the extent that I was cruelly deprived of a rare 'Chess:5' clue when John mis-stepped onto one of our assassins before it was my turn.

Tony humphed his way into the gathering dusk, and - instead of re-igniting Wizard as we had threatened - we played a very civilised closing stanza of Divinare. In a storming final round, I took out three out of four boards to overhaul Becky for the win. Meanwhile, John was the veritable model of how to lose gracefully as he watched his score sink beneath zero in round 2. Which was nice.
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Sun May 29, 2016 9:41 pm
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Friday May 20th - Tempestuous Times

Ben Bateson
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With Becky shying away this week, I sniffed an opportunity to extend our run-throughs of AEG's Tempest games (scorecard so far - Canalis is interesting but weird; Courtier is compact and sweet; Mercante is unintuitive but grows on you; Love Letter is a classic as we all know), and started swotting up on the Dominare rules. It looked pretty sharp: some El Grande-type area control hybrid with a card tableau, and our other visitors (Tony, Dan, JP) were easy enough to talk around to its charms.

Teaching was a damn sight easier than Mercante, but Tony's brain seemed yet again to be slightly closed to new ideas, and Dan had to assist me in hammering home some elusive concepts such as cardinal numbers and how many sides a playing card had. But we dived in eventually, to a vague undertone of grumbling from - whom else? - Tony that he couldn't combo any of his cards.

Dominare proved to be pretty much everything I expected, perhaps a little high on the chaos scale, but territories were soon established and being defended. I was particularly impressed with the way the theme had started to make sense and integrate with the game itself a little bit more. But, bigods, was it long? It went past the two-and-a-half hour mark thanks to some extended thinking times from nearly all concerned: at least part of the beauty of Courtier and Mercante was that they were wrapped up in well under 90 minutes. Imagine how long-winded it would be with six. But it was well received by John and - particularly - Dan, the latter referring to it as 'exactly his sort of game', and I wouldn't be averse to a re-run. Tony, perhaps a little understandably, resented having to play for 140 minutes for a reward of only three points, so I doubt he'd be involved. But, at this length, it's not a 'game night' game, anyway. I eventually wound up the winner after successfully wrangling my Round 7 (and therefore most powerful) actions, something which the others failed to do.

Tony was being called away early tonight, so I had to sympathise a little that he didn't get anything else to play: especially given that we were in possession of a much greater card-oriented area control game. But his failure to grasp some of the essentials of the game was entirely his own doing, so he doesn't quite get all the sympathy.

Tony may have left, but - like some bizarre Boydellian poltergeist - his grumbling somehow remained into two closing games that usually go smoothly. Isle of Skye was all lop-sided and Dan proceeded to a very easy victory. And Port Royal, normally a bastion of japery and Pinasse-jokes was approached with brow-furrowed concentration and it all went to the luck of a captain card when I won.

So, yeah, something of an oddball night. But Dan and I could well play Dominare again.
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Sun May 29, 2016 8:55 pm
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Friday May 13th - Love Letter's Up Where We Belong

Ben Bateson
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One of the perils of a Friday gaming group is that, once or twice a year, you run into the dreaded Friday 13th. But this particular one proved unlucky only in the sense of being unable to find a parking space, and it was much to my amusement to watch Boydell loop around the carpark and apparently disappear out of view back down the road.

Gary had come with 'An Agenda' this week: he wanted to play 7 Wonders and/or Stone Age. Being closely involved with Norm, he has a sparse education in the classics, Norm preferring to buy things that are new, sparkly and - inevitably - not very good. 7 Wonders certainly met with my approval, no less because we were looking like being that terminally-tricky six people tonight. Becky made sure we didn't forget Stone Age, either.

Yet again, some nameless soul (OK, it was Benedict) made a godawful hash of dealing out the 7 Wonders cards, and as usual it was left to me to rectify, still trying to educate Gary in the fine points at the same time. But eventually we were up and running, and my Wonder (Babylon) steered me heavily towards a science strategy. My 38 Science points couldn't contend with Benedict, though, who more or less redeemed himself from the shuffling disaster with a full-house of war victories aligned with a fair few Blue points.

The house rule for 7 Wonders is 'once you've gone to all the effort of getting it out, you have to play it a second time', so we re-randomised with a few expansion wonders shuffled in. This resulted in my getting Olympia, and I was intrigued by the B-side, particularly the 'buy brown goods on both sides at discount' first Wonder stage, which I built with haste. It was a fruitful move: with the cards dictating that again I go Green, I was able to supplement a few Blue points and keep ahead of Benedict's military to my left for the final two ages. Benedict had fallen from grace with a 'JP' score of 29, but I had a whopping 68 for my first 7W win in absolutely ages!

John, unexpectedly, has rediscovered his love of Stone Age, and he and Becky hustled Gary off to the backroom where it wouldn't offend Tony's eyes. Benedict gladly acquiesced to a game of 'new edition' Agricola, which gave me an excellent opportunity to reprise my 'Hollow' larks. Never gets old, I swear. Anyway, I dealt myself an absolutely shoddy selection of Minors (which didn't sit happily with my Braggart - sadly castrated in the second version) and a couple of decent Ocks. In fact, we all managed a Day Laborer Ock, Benedict using his Cottager on the way to first family growth. Unfortunately, he learned to his cost the perils of 'growing too early', and had to take a couple of begging cards around the fourth harvest. Tony, in contrast to me, had a hugely powerful combination of improvements. I muttered halfway through that I'd do well to get within 5 points of him, which turned out to be somewhat prescient, an unusually high-scoring game going 43-38-somewhat fewer, in his favour.

With only a smattering of minutes before the Boydells had to be back on the road, Benedict got all enthusiastic about a quick session of Love Letter. It's not at its best with 3P, but it remains the best of the microgames nevertheless, and much deft deduction (and, I'm sure, dumb luck) led to Benedict's victory. It also intermingles nicely with our on-off project to play all the Tempest games (update: copy of Patronize arrived this week!).

The Neanderthals emerged from the back room, John glowing with victory, and Gary - quite correctly - took the view that Stone Age wasn't really worth buying on its own merits. He was very enthused about 7 Wonders, though, so that's a decent 50% hit-rate for the evening. The four of us spread out around the table and played Glass Road. It's one that neither Gary or John are quite up to speed at yet, and the game wasn't helped by being virtually over at the end of Round 2 (at which point Becky had five buildings and was looking like a shoe-in). But, between the three males, it went right down to the wire, with only a couple of points separating us. Perhaps there is some substance in our unofficial mantra: 'never play Becky at a late-night filler'...
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Sat May 14, 2016 7:16 pm
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Friday May 6th - F.U.N.E.T.? S.V.F.T...

Ben Bateson
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Seems appropriate to trot out a RoW meme this week.

Five was our number and happily I had a bag packed to match. It was difficult to turn down the Machiavellian delights of Princes Of Florence, and a conversation quickly ensued as to whether we were going to play by our 'house rules' (the way we were taught to play and have always played) or by the 'actual, correct rules' (scoring 1WV for all profession cards, rather than just the ones on the table, which we find a bit inferior). No-one has adequately explained if our house rules are actively broken, so we played the way we always have done, and thumbed our noses at the snobs and purists.

And terrific it was. Benedict belted out to an early lead with a full-house of builders, and Becky and Tony traded the Jurist more times than should have been feasible. I had two good Prestige cards to work towards, but my plans for 'fewest unused spaces' was adequately scuppered by Benedict across the table. Meanwhile, Becky - unusually for her - faltered into last place, and Tony allowed John to nip through at the very last for an unforeseen and low-scoring victory. I would be very surprised if anyone at the table claimed to be disappointed by the experience.

Tony spurned my second-game choices of Mercante (too soon?) and Furstenfeld (the only manifest excuse being that he's not very good at it), so we embarked upon the next generation of Snowdonia, the 'Nice Cup of Tea' layout featuring the Darjeeling Himalayan railway. This is likely to come with its own board and new white-cube engine, and adds a tea-growing (and tea-making) mechanic to be exploited with excavate actions. The emphasis on excavation didn't sit very comfortably with me, to the extent that I was effectively gazumped by John very early on and my game petered out to a no-contracts-fulfilled fourth place. Becky, as is rather typical, finished a good twenty points ahead of Tony and John, with Benedict pottering around somewhere in the foothills.

The best Snowdonia expansions thus far (Washington and Daffodil) have centred on the simple priorities of getting the railway built and the way that the natural building order interleaves with the Worker Placement mechanic. A Nice Cup Of Tea drifts from this ideal: adding the new mechanic felt like complexity for complexity's sake and took the focus too far away from the game's core. Rather than de-emphasising strong spaces, it goes out of its way to over-emphasise them - I suspect it will be much to the liking of Waterdeep and Stone Age fans who like their WP to have strongly hierarchical choices, but I don't think it's for me.

With some 45 minutes remaining, we plopped one of Becky's favourites onto the table. Fiji is a bizarre and barking-mad little treasure which we played a lot 'back in the day', but has been somewhat dormant since. Trying to explain it through the medium of words would be futile - trying to outbid all the others on four different criteria simultaneously while trying to achieve a goal that goes down to four levels of tie-break is only the surface reading, especially because the 'reward' for winning some of the bids is often stuff that will hinder you from achieving that goal AND the fact that ties bounce down to a bidder who thought he was safe. Yes, it's crazy, but still rather fun and perhaps not as uncontrollable as some make out. 'Some', in this case, being Tony, who finished outright last in two rounds and finished with a single shrunken head (VP) for his troubles. He tried to claim the game was rubbish with five, which is utterly groundless as an excuse.

Dobble was our closer - our first plays since Christmas, I believe. Thankfully, a few months' rest has done little, if anything, to diminish its lustre.
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Sun May 8, 2016 12:42 pm
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Friday April 29th - Baffling the Bishop

Ben Bateson
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Becky was away on 'works do' territory until some unknown hour tonight, so I cadged myself a lift from Tony on the basis of a free pint of PJ&L, and we nattered our way down to the White Lion sharing plans for game design and what-have-you (in a flash of inspiration, my plans for an Offa's Dyke-themed game have sprung to life again over midweek). Before too long, we were accompanied by JP, and Tony threw Bohemian Villages back onto the table for us to relive last week's dice-chucking opener.

My bishop-heavy gameplan was rather rudely interrupted by Tony, who was rolling 12s with impunity and earning quite the collection of manor houses. But I staggered my way to the prestigious 'four shops' bonus and pipped him by a couple of points. John was thoroughly nonplussed at the denouement, and to be honest I think two plays is going to be reasonably sufficient to see all this game has to offer. It will come out again from time to time, but is there any real replayability?

Our plan to negotiate our way through the elaborate Tempest series had reached Stage 2: Mercante. The rulebooks are not the friendliest things at the best of times, concealing some deceptively simple mechanics under florid prose and backstory, and I was aware I was slightly off top-form as far as teaching was concerned. However, I don't think I've ever seen a rules explanation go down as dichotomously with only two other people on the table. To my right, John was nodding away, punctuating my teaching with comments of: "Yes. Yes. Makes sense. I see", which is generally reassuring. Across from me, Tony had assumed the face that you might receive if you tried to teach a small squirrel the fundamentals of string theory. I was fearing that I would have to return to basics and teach him in terms of simple concepts (including those of 'game', 'table' and 'pork scratching'), when suddenly everything clicked on the fourth or fifth explanation and we dived headlong into what was actually a fairly low-stress game.

The short explanation of Mercante is that you auction off some goods (16 goods in four different categories) and then take a couple of WP actions with your cronies in order to sell them, buy VPs, expand your operations or other trifling pieces. VPs come from fulfilling 'contracts' by selling stuff on the contract card, can be bought at steadily increasing prices on a track that also acts as a game-timer, or can be closed-fist-auctioned from a small stockpile that gets a VP every time someone buys one. It was remarkably fuss-free once we got going, and was one of those games which is a damn sight shorter than everyone was expecting, meaning John was able to pressure us into ending the game (another thing I like in general: player-dictated end conditions) and secure a comfortable win. We closed with a discussion of how thematic games can be good as long as the theme is superficial nonsense and doesn't obliterate the game beneath.

Well, it was barely 9pm after two solid games, and we had time to spend on my long-overdue-for-playing Essen purchase of Clacks. Tony and John were reminded quickly of Dadaocheng, a game they had enjoyed but which had left me lukewarm, but I had to admit that there was far more control in Dadaocheng than in Clacks. Essentially, it's a geometric puzzle solver where the board is left utterly chaotic by other people's turns, meaning there can never be any planning ahead. This is by far the biggest obstacle, and I imagine it is even present in the (supposedly superior) co-operative version. It also makes a mystery of the designers' decision to supply a huge deck of objective cards, beyond making the whole thing drip with Discworld theme. Unfortunately, as all-but-one Discworld games have proved, draping a poor game in theme - no matter how geek-friendly - just doesn't work.

We moved on swiftly to much more solid ground in the form of Glass Road, and it began looking ominous as Tony managed to pre-empt two cards immediately from me. John, meanwhile, set out his stall for the village church, perhaps oblivious to the fact that he needed somewhat more than 8 points to win. Meanwhile, I played an early Builder in Round 2 to secure the prestigious Sediment Factory (one of the best tiles in the game without a doubt), and it had the double benefit of pre-empting John's Builder with him unable to afford anything substantial. Tony also seemed to grind to a halt on production, leaving me with a low-scoring victory on 18 points. Phew!

Becky, tired from the political machinations of having to talk to her colleagues all evening, had turned up by now and announced that she wanted to play something that didn't require too much thinking. Luckily, we had TWO somethings that didn't require too much thinking, and she proved to be very good at both. Firstly, she inflicted a critical pudding-penalty on Tony in Sushi Go to deprive him of a game-long lead, and then at the end of For Sale, she paused mid-addition to watch Tony celebrate his powerful 70 points, before deliberately finishing her count-up: "Seventy....Seventy-one, Seventy-two, Seventy-three". Never play Becky at a late-night filler.

Although we sometimes moan when only a handful of gamers turn out, it facilitates playing six games of an evening, a luxury apparently not afforded to some other bloggers...
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Mon May 2, 2016 4:44 pm
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Friday April 22nd - Boroughing Like Bunnies

Ben Bateson
United Kingdom
Ross-on-Wye
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You know your stock's rising when you walk into the pub only to find the landlady having a diatribe at the people who refuse to vacate the gamers' table. As it turns out, we needed tables-plural tonight, for there was fully seven of us, and no-one wanted to spend all evening playing Spyfall.

It was Gary's birthday, which gave him free choice of games, and he opened with the hoary old jest of opening up a bag with Monopoly and Cluedo inside. He'd also included Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit just to make me feel inferior, because I quite LIKE those two!

Once we'd dutifully tittered our way through Gary's bag, he produced the real stuff, and immediately guaranteed that Becky would be joining his table by brandishing The Voyages Of Marco Polo (No, Stuart. It isn't. Trust me) and Concordia. Norm also leaped onto that bandwagon, leaving John hovering between tables. Eventually, John twigged that he may be forced to play Agricola if he stayed too long, and so opted for the Marco Polo table also.

Not that we're in the habit of forcing people to play Agricola. Normally. However, Tony had waltzed in this evening with a glint in his eye and a copy of the spanking new reprint in his hand. With Dan also present, there was little doubt that this one would need to be tried out.

But we started with lighter fare and another sneak preview, this time of Bohemian Villages. The game's biggest failing is that it is yet another in a long, long list of dice-placement fillers, combining elements of Waggledance, Las Vegas, Can't Stop, Machi Koro and all the rest. I enjoyed it, but then I enjoy all the other games that are pretty much like it as well. Dan won this after Tony's vindictive streak came to the fore and he kicked me off a space rather than kicking Dan.

And so the inevitable came to pass, and we cracked open 'new-Gric' for a first look. General initial impressions were disappointing: the silly jigsaw board, the limited deck of 48 cards, and the daft names for the action spaces made no sense. But a good fix for the 3P 'take one resource' space was evident (it is now 1R/1St + 1F), and the cards had clearly been selected as the best from not only the original base set but expansions too: the opening draft contained a couple of recognisables from our Netherlands-deck game a few weeks back. But, on the whole, there's nothing to be classed as essential for the experienced Agricolarian, although I might be taking the Sharpie to one of my 3P action space cards.

It was an unusual session which seemed very open and free-wheeling compared to our previous strangling 3P sessions. This could be in part due to Tony and I both opening up working Day Laborer combos (he had the Field Tiller and Clay Pit; I had the Seasonal Worker and an unfortunately-named Cottager), and Dan choosing to deliberately starve himself at one harvest in favour of taking the Well (not, I believe, the correct move in the circumstances). Little good it did him, Tony and I emerged with an equitable 37-point draw.

The opposite table were still deeply immersed in Marco Polo (net result, Becky wins by a single point and I don't really give a monkeys), so we moved on. Our second-main event was one that hadn't made the trip out for a long, long time: Martin Wallace's London. Its appearance brought approving nods from Dan and Tony both, even though we only had the vaguest recollection of the rules. Still, once we'd boned up (quiet, Tony), it all flowed very nicely, and I was pleased to find myself drawn back into the intricacies of collecting the right cards and timing loans and city activations. Dan managed to cripple himself with an over-large city, and Tony collected money but for little effect, so it was an hour later that I emerged a winner by some margin. But I'm sure we can set that down to ring-rustiness (quiet, Tony): we do need to play this a little more often than once a year.

With Tony taking one of his semi-regular early departures, and Gary's table moved onto Concordia with the Salsa expansion (it won't surprise blog regulars to hear that Becky won), Dan and I sought for a 2P closer in the form of Evolution. The rules were easily dispensed, and Dan very quickly adapted to what was required to play well, something I have never mastered in half a dozen plays, all winless. To my eternal shame, I resigned with still a third of the deck left - well, it was also getting late, the bar was closed and Becky was making pointed gestures towards her watch.

It wouldn't be going to far to suggest that six classics and club favourites were played tonight. These nights are what we live for.
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Sun Apr 24, 2016 10:46 pm
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